Wednesday, June 29, 2016


I flew to Istanbul to renew my visa -- the simple reason.
     The more complex --
         to try to escape from the image
         playing over and over in my head.

The Palestinian boy, 12 years old
(I would later learn)
concealed, mainly, by the clouds of tear gas
where, I remember thinking --
    absurdly ---
the taxis were supposed to be
in Al-Khalil, Hebron, where Abram rests.

Yes, yes, the boy --
     arm uplifted, for a second --
     then, so strange the way he fell.

The Israeli soldiers,
forcing open doors,
setting up on rooftops.

And firing down into the crowd, the gunshots --
    not like in a movie, not dramatic,
    a sound I can't quite capture in words.

"The taxis are up the street," an onlooker said.
Just giving directions.
Just another day in the city where Sarai,
     laid her head down.

It's not his face I remember --
     I couldn't see him well, not so far up the street, not clouded as he was.

But the scene
     the feel of it
     my face stinging with
     the tightness of it
     as if reality was barely held together
     about to shatter.

And so I went to Istanbul.
     And marveled at the Hagia Sophia
         and the Blue Mosque
              and took a bus to swim in hot springs
                    and to see the ruins of Ephesus
                         and danced and drank and kissed.

And tried to forget.
And tried to escape.

But maybe there is no escaping the contagion
    that stalks through the streets of Al-Khalil
        that howls for blood inside the Istanbul airport
              or terrorizes inside of a night club in Orlando
                   or a school in Connecticut
                         or a street corner in Baltimore.

Different places, yes, I know.
Different things.
Different complicating factors.

But maybe the contagion isn't in a place.
Maybe it's in our hearts.
Our beating hearts.
Our human hearts.

I went to Istanbul to escape,
    and maybe there isn't an escape,
         not like that,
              not like that.

"Thoughts and prayers aren't enough."
"We have to do something."

But you see, I was doing something --
     or thought I was --
          and found myself staring,

"Where are the taxis?" I asked, woodenly.

"Thoughts and prayers aren't enough."
"We have to do something."

And if you think those two statements are so far from each other

That prayer and doing are so far removed

Then you haven't taken a good, hard look at these hearts

These human hearts

These broken hearts

These hurting hearts

These hearts that pump the blood

That flowed out from a 12-year old boy

Into the streets of Hebron

The streets of "God's Friend"

The day before I flew

To Istanbul.

Friday, June 3, 2016

I've seen it done, or, some not-so-final thoughts on unity

Over the past few weeks, I've been doing some reflection on the concept of Christian unity, following the General Conference of the United Methodist Church (and now a troubling Balt-Wash Annual Conference as well). You can read the first of those reflections here, as well as a second and third.

Just to summarize, I looked at three different ways of understanding unity, based on three (well, four, but two of them together) different texts:

The Pentecost story, in contrast to the story of Babel, reminds us that true Christian unity is not monolithic or institutional, but rather charismatic and multilingual. It is based not on structure or top-down enforcement but rather on the Spirit-gifted ability to hear each other in all of our differences.

The Christ hymn from Paul's letter to the church in Philippi shows us that unity is based in the self-emptying love of Jesus, which reveals rather than conceals what true divinity looks like. This passage cautions against trying to achieve unity with power politics and instead challenges us to step out of centers of power and into places of suffering and hurt.

And Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17 reminds us that Christian unity is a mystical unity with God through Jesus and the Spirit, rather than a worldly program of organizational merging or institutional togetherness.

Which all sounds very nice. But the thing is that I'm not just making stuff up here. I've seen it done.

Or rather, I've seen it happen, a gift of the Spirit, the presence of the self-emptying Christ, the mystic union that God bring about.

I've seen communities, churches, small groups, big groups, gathered together in ways that transcend differences while affirming the amazing diversity needful for the health of the body.

I've seen it, I've witnessed it, in a converted apartment in the mountains of Morocco, in a converted house in the city of Jerusalem, in living rooms and small university chapels and big auditoriums.

And yes, I've seen it happen in many United Methodist congregations, where my gifts and my calling have been nurtured, encouraged, strengthened, and affirmed.

It is a beautiful, beautiful thing. A true gift.

There are a few common characteristics that I've noticed about these sorts of communities. I think I'll save that for another reflection, though, because I don't want this to be too utilitarian -- I just want to say, yes, this is possible; yes, there is beauty and wonder to be found in this weird tradition we are a part of; yes, God does call us to unity.